Novel immersive virtual reality experiences do not produce retroactive memory benefits for unrelated material
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Description: The experience of novelty can enhance memory for information that occurs close in time, even if not directly related to the experience—a phenomenon called “behavioural tagging.” For example, an animal exposed to a novel spatial environment shows improved memory for other information presented previously. This has been linked to neurochemical modulations induced by novelty, which affect consolidation of memories for experiences that were encoded around the same time. Neurophysiological research in animals has shown that novelty benefits weakly encoded but not strongly encoded information. However, a benefit that is selective to weak memories seems difficult to reconcile with studies in humans that have reported that novelty improves recollection, but not familiarity. One possibility is that the novelty increases activity in hippocampus, which is also associated with processes that enable recollection. This is consistent with another prediction of behavioural tagging theory, namely that novelty only enhances consolidation of information that converges on the same neuronal population. However, no study has directly explored the relationship between encoding strength and retrieval quality (recollection versus familiarity). We examined the effects of exposure to a novel immersive virtual reality environment on memory for words presented immediately beforehand, under either deep or shallow encoding tasks, and by testing both recall memory immediately, and recognition memory with remember/know instructions the next day. However, Bayes factors showed no evidence to support the behavioural tagging predictions: that novelty would improve memory, particularly for shallowly encoded words, and this improvement would differentially affect familiarity versus recollection.